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Best Doctorate Programs in Human Resources

Jul 15, 2021

Human Resources Doctorate Overview

Human resources (HR) is a general way of describing a field which focuses on the management, organization and training of employees within an organization. Nearly all organizations with employees rely on some form of HR department, making the field vital to daily operations.

Doctoral degree programs in HR give students valuable knowledge in the development of leadership, management and interpersonal skills. Those who identify as extroverts may especially thrive in the field.

When pursuing a doctoral degree, prospective students can consider traditional, on-campus programs as well as flexible online programs. In their programs, students can expect to take courses in disciplines such as business management, psychology, public policy and economics. Graduates can anticipate career options such as postsecondary teachers, development specialists and researchers.

What Doctoral Degrees in Human Resources Are Available?

Prospective students have multiple degree options when it comes to human resources. One option is Ph.D. in Human Resources. These degree programs focus heavily on research and academia to prepare graduates for careers in teaching at the postsecondary level or independent research in the field. Another option is a business doctorate degree, such as a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA). Much like a Ph.D. prerequisites for a DBA include a resume, prior education (a Master of Business Administration is preferred), a personal statement and letters of recommendation. These programs can be found in both on-campus and online formats.

Coursework for both types of program is made up of research and seminar classes. Examples of DBA courses include leading organizations through people, behavioral decision theory and business ethics and social responsibility. DBA programs also may include more business courses such as marketing and business strategy, statistics in business research and accounting research.

Those holding a DBA degree can pursue careers in post-secondary teaching in addition to having opportunities in corporate settings. DBA graduates are also good candidates for executive roles. One such career is a chief human resources officer. Top executive positions are in charge of establishing policies, managing various groups of employees and analyze performance indicators. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, top executives earn, on average, $107,680 annually as of May 2020 with a projected growth of 4 percent.

A DBA program may prove beneficial for students interested in corporate work and business administration more so than a Ph.D. in human resources. Students can also explore related degree titles such as entrepreneurship or project management.

Admissions Requirements for Human Resources Doctoral Programs

Students must apply to their program of study using the application process laid out by their chosen institution. Some programs will accept students on a rolling basis. Others have hard deadlines for applications.

Specific requirements will vary, but in general, prospective doctoral program students must submit transcripts from prior degrees. While some programs will accept students holding only a bachelor's degree, a master's degree is preferred.

In addition to providing details about prior education, applicants can expect letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose or a personal statement to be required. Other admissions requirements may include GRE test scores, a resume and writing samples.

Educational & Professional Prerequisites for Human Resources Doctorate Students

Ideal HR doctorate candidates will hold a master's degree in human resources, sociology, business or another related field. While this is not always a requirement, it is greatly preferred by many programs. At minimum, an incoming student must possess a bachelor's degree.

Prospective students also are not necessarily required to have a background in an HR career, but having such a background does strengthen an applicant's knowledge of the field and chances for acceptance.

Regardless of the program, applicants are expected to have a general understanding of HR and HR related topics as foundational knowledge before embarking on advanced topics involved in a Ph.D. or DBA.

Accreditation for Human Resources Doctorate Programs

Accreditation is important to look for in a degree program as it provides evidence an institution has met and abides by higher education standards. There are two types of accreditation that higher education institutes can receive. The primary category is institutional accreditation. This category applies to the entirety of the institution's standards. The second category is specialized or programmatic accreditation. This is awarded to certain programs or departments within an institution. At minimum, students should seek programs that hold institutional accreditation.

The U.S. Department of Education maintains the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) which allows students to look up an institution to verify their accreditation records.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Doctorate in Human Resources?

Students can expect their doctorate program to take three to five years, or potentially even longer. Exact length varies on program requirements. The typical program involves two or three years of course work with the remainder of the program length spent on dissertation writing. Cornell University, for example, outlines the major aspects and milestones for each year of their five-year program on their program overview webpage.

Students have potential to finish their degree more quickly or slowly depending on the course load they take and how long it takes to complete the dissertation process.

Human Resources Doctoral Coursework

Human resources coursework

can cover a multitude of topics geared towards organization, management, ethics and interpersonal skills, such as hiring. Most courses are designed to give students a deeper understanding of necessary topics within HR through practical and theoretical settings. While exact courses required will vary with each program, students can anticipate similar foundational courses across all programs. As per the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign student handbook, courses may include:

  • Economics
  • Foundations of Organizational Behavior
  • Theory in Social Psychology
  • Employee relations
  • Demography and Human Ecology

Additionally, students typically must complete research methods courses to prepare for the dissertation writing process. Some programs have elective credits students must fill with approved electives. These electives provide students with opportunities to further their knowledge in their area of interest.

Once all courses are complete, students move onto preparing their dissertation proposal and completing their qualifying exam. Once the proposal has been approved and qualifying exams are passed, students continue into the writing process.

Preparing Your Human Resources Dissertation

The dissertation process consists of multiple steps. The first step for students is to select their advisor. This typically occurs within the first or second year of the program. Advisors play an important role in helping the student determine what courses align with their research goals and interests. An advisor also helps students along the entirety of the dissertation process by acting as a scholarly expert and mentor. Typically, they will also aid in editing and reviewing a student's dissertation.

Once a student has selected their advisor and completed the required preliminary coursework, the student will prepare their dissertation proposal and take the qualifying exam. The exact nature of what a proposal or qualifying exam entails will vary based on an individual program and the student. It is standard for students to present an oral defense of their proposal to a committee of academic experts to prove competency and potential in the subject.

After the proposal is approved, students enter candidacy, where they will work on independent research and write their dissertation paper. During this time students may conduct research by reading journals and texts, completing labs and studies or performing fieldwork such as observation. Upon completion of their dissertation, students defend their paper in front of a committee. With a passing defense, students proceed to graduate.

Human Resources Doctorate Concentrations

Ph.D. students have opportunities to focus their research on a specific concentration. The purpose of a concentration is to guide research and coursework to best suit a student's interests. Concentrations allow for interdisciplinary research. Students can use the interdisciplinary coursework to gain a wider range of knowledge and research to draw from during the dissertation writing process. Some examples of concentrations as outlined by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign program handbook include human resources management, public policy and wages, market behavior and income security. It is encouraged that students consult with their academic advisor to commit to a concentration early in the program.

Human Resources Management

Human resource management is concerned with understanding how to better develop and manage labor forces to increase efficiency and decrease employee conflict. All industries benefit from having a human resources manager, demonstrating the importance of the field. Human resources management encompasses employee management and policy implementation. This concentration is particularly beneficial to students interested in employee relations, strategic organizational management and conflict management. Students who prefer working with people and understanding human behavior and management may find this concentration particularly interesting. Some research topics explored in human resources management include diversity and gender studies in the workplace, strategic organization and international human resource management.

Public Policy

Human resource specialists are often involved in public policy. This comes into play in organizations that are unionized, operate internationally or are government agencies. Those researching public policy may take courses to learn about management and union organization, labor dispute settlement and law or development and execution of public industrial relations policy. Students may need to take further courses within political science and law disciplines, depending on their exact research topic. Samples of research topics may include organizational justice and international labor policies. Students with an interest in policy and law may find the public policy concentration a suitable option for their career and research goals.

Wages, Labor Market Behavior and Income Security

Students interested in pursuing research on economic topics within human resources can explore topics in wages, labor market behavior and income security. Since employees require compensation of some sort, the ability to analyze appropriate wages as well as understand market behavior is crucial. This concentration sets graduates up for careers in compensation analysis. Students focusing on wage, labor market behavior and income security may take courses such as the economic aspects of employment and wage theories, as well as theories of employment and unemployment and labor market behavior.

What Other Types of Human Resources Degrees Are There?

Prospective students with any level of education can find HR topics in a variety of degrees and degree levels that will best suit their interests and career goals. A DBA or Ph.D. offers the potential to move into executive roles and academics, but students may find that a master's, bachelor's or associate degree program aids them in their career goals too. Additionally, students can receive graduate certificates that serve to supplement their knowledge of the topic or teach them specific skills.

Human Resources Associate Degrees

Offered as an Associates of Science or an Associates of Applied Sciences, associate degrees require approximately 60 credits. A human resources associate offers base knowledge in employment regulations at the federal, state and local levels, ethics, global business, organizational management and communication skills. This degree type is suitable for students looking to get a base knowledge and potentially proceed or transfer to a bachelor's program. Additionally, associate degree programs are often cost effective and flexible for non-traditional students who may have a full-time job, a family or other circumstances that greatly affect their daily schedule.

Human Resources Bachelor's Degrees

Bachelor's degree programs span 120 or more credit hours over four to five years. Typically within a business department, human resources bachelor's degrees cover a wide range of topics to give students both general knowledge as well as in-depth studies. Students may take courses such as negotiations, personnel training and development, staffing and labor-management relations. Additionally, students will need to fulfill required courses in other areas of study such as a lab science, math and social sciences. Bachelor's degrees open up opportunities in various HR-related fields as well as prepare students for pursuing further education if they so choose.

Human Resources Master's Degrees

Students interested in furthering their education at the graduate level may find that a master's program, such as a Master of Science in Human Resources, suits them well. A master's program spans approximately two to three years. Master's students will take similar courses to those required at the bachelor's level but in much greater depth. Course topics may include negotiation and consulting skills, organization leadership, and employment law. Students may also have opportunities to specialize within the program to better suit their research and career goals. A majority of master's programs require students to do a research project. This is most commonly completed in the form of a thesis research paper.

Human Resources Graduate Certificates

Human resources graduate certificates are aimed towards people that are already in a profession and want to expand their knowledge and skillset in various topics. Certificate programs are typically designed to have more specific coursework and topics rather than a broad knowledge base. Examples include organizational leadership certificates and project management certificates. Certificate programs are typically 15 credits. Certificates can help professionals improve their career prospects as well as gain valuable knowledge.

Career Options & Salary Outlook for Human Resources Doctoral Graduates

The field of human resources is broad and offers plenty of career opportunities to suit any graduate's interests and goals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites a growing global economy in which business fields are expected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029. Doctorate graduates can find careers such as a human resources consultant. Ph.D. graduates also have opportunities to take on top tier executive roles. Other career options include titles such as post-secondary teacher, training and development specialist and compensation analysts.

Become a Post-Secondary Teacher

A common career path for Ph.D. graduates includes academia. Post-secondary teaching involves planning lessons and assignments, teaching, advising and sometimes research or publishing. Often called professors, opportunities include adjunct and tenure positions. Adjunct professors work primarily with students through teaching part-time. Tenured professors work fulltime and take on more responsibilities such as sitting on advisory boards, publishing research and teaching.

The median annual pay for post-secondary teachers was $80,790 as of May 2020, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This, however, varies with specific departments. Human resources can fall in several categories such as business or social science. The median annual pay for these categories is $88,010 and $69,340 respectively.

One benefit of post-secondary teaching is the job outlook. Overall employment has a projected growth of 9 percent from 2019 to 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Teaching is a viable option for graduates looking to remain in an academic setting and further their research through their employer.

Become a Training and Development Specialist

Training and development specialists are another human resource career that is present in most, if not all, professional organizations. New employees often need onboarding and training to get them adjusted to their roles and policies put in place by the business. Training and development specialists are responsible for creating training materials, leading training courses and assess existing training materials for improvement. They also will need to have a strong understanding of technology and how to implement online and digital training materials.

As of May 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported average median pay of $62,700 annually. For those interested in becoming a training and development specialist, they can anticipate a growth rate of 9 percent for the field, which is faster than average growth. Training and development is an important role suitable for anyone interested in helping employees learn and grow in their careers.

Become a Compensation, Benefits and Job Analyst

One career within HR is a compensation, benefits and job analyst. Much like other HR roles, this position is particularly crucial for all businesses. This career is especially relevant to those looking to work with financial statements and analysis.

Compensation, benefits and job analysts are in charge of overseeing and managing wage and non-wage programs offered as compensation for employee work. They also are responsible for analyzing what is a suitable salary for a given position. Some companies may have one role for compensation, benefits and job analysis. Others may break up the roles into three separate jobs.

On average, compensation, benefits and job analysts earn a median salary of $67,190 per year as of 2020. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also anticipates a faster than average occupational growth of 8 percent over a ten year span from 2019 to 2029.

Human Resources Professional Organizations

Professional organizations are beneficial groups that can help students and professionals connect, grow and network. Professional organizations also allow members to take part in conventions, development programs and various other events. Some organizations also maintain a job board that allows job seeking employees and students access to HR focused career opportunities.

One example of an HR professional organization is the National Human Resources Association (NHRA). For students looking to join the NHRA, student discounts are offered for membership fees. The networking experience is invaluable for students as it creates connections in businesses and organizations that may benefit career growth.

Another example of a professional organizations is the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). This organization also has various tiers of membership, including a student membership. SHRM also offers a certification aimed at HR services and promoting career growth.

Joining a professional organization offers great opportunity for professionals and students to network, partake in events and grow career.

How Much Does a Doctorate in Human Resources Cost?

Doctorates are often cost effective for programs that offer full tuition funding for eligible students, though typically only for up to five years. Some programs also offer a stipend to aid in cost of living.

For programs that do not offer funding, tuition costs can vary on the institute and residency. Out-of-state students often have higher tuition rates than students in state. Estimated total cost of attendance from Cornell University for the 2021-2022 year is just over $52,000. This cost may vary depending on a student's cost of housing, transportation and food.

Scholarships & Funding Opportunities for a Human Resources Doctorate

As previously stated, Ph.D. programs are often fully funded. Michigan State University, for example, offers five years of full funding for students. Funding is typically dependent on availability and student standing. Additionally, students may qualify for scholarships and grants offered by the institute as well as outside of the institute. More information regarding scholarships, grants and other forms of aid is available from the Federal Student Aid office of the Department of Education. Grants are also available through the Department of Education's main site.

Many schools also require students to complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid of FAFSA. FAFSA is a resource that determines eligibility for financial aid for new and current students. The Student Aid government site also offers Graduate PLUS loans. These are designed specifically for students enrolled in graduate programs.

Cost of attendance can greatly affect whether a school is right for a student or not. While there are plenty of resources available to aid in the funding process, it's important to consider tuition, fees and cost of living when pursuing a Ph.D. degree.

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